By Miriam Raftery
November 23, 2009 – After learning of the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) investigation into Assemblyman Joel Anderson 's finances and hearing that Anderson (R-Alpine) returned some $100,000 in donations of questionable legality, East County Magazine submitted a public records request to his office. We asked to see correspondence between Anderson, his staff, and major donors implicated in an alleged scheme to bypass campaign finance laws.
But our Assemblyman has concluded that the public should not see any corresponndence between his office and major donors implicated in his campaign finance scandal.
Members of the Hamann family gave $30,000 to the Fresno Central Committee, which in turn donated nearly identical sums to Anderson’s campaign days later. Sempra Energy and the Barona Band of Mission Indians also gave large sums which were passed through out-of-area Republican central committees to fatten Anderson’s campaign coffers. If there was coordination with Anderson or his campaign to bypass limits on individual donations to a campaign, these would be violations of state law.
In a letter dated November 17, Jon Waldie, chief administrative officer for the Assembly Rules Committee, informed ECM that our request has been denied. He cites the Legislative Open Records Act, which excludes from mandatory production correspondence “of and to individual Members of the Legislature and their staff” and “[c]ommunications from private citizens to the Legislature.”
In the past, East County Magazine has received correspondence sent by individual citizens to other public entities, notably 165 letters sent by area residents to the Helix Water Board protesting a rate hike. So why is it that the Legislature has different rules than other public agencies?
“The Legislative Open Records Act is written by the Legislature, so there is a total double standard there,” explained Terry Francke, legislative counsel for Californians Aware, an organization dedicated to protecting open government including citizens’ and journalists’ rights to public records.
However, he clarified, the law does not prohibit such records from being released. Instead, he clarified, “It just means that they don’t have to provide you with access. They can choose to; it’s up to the legislator. “
ECM limited our initial request to donations made by individuals representing the Hamann Family Trust , Hamann Construction and Hamann Green Construction (since individual names representing those companies are easily identified, compared with representatives of other corporate donors in question).
So why won’t Assemblyman Anderson choose to release the records? If he has nothing to hide and did no legislative favors in exchange for hefty donations from these individuals, why not simply disclose his correspondence with individuals in question and set the record straight?
Meanwhile, controversy around Anderson’s campaign finances continues to grow. Anderson has returned approximately $100,000 in questionable donations to three Republican Central Committees which, in addition to Hamann, also passed through large sums from Sempra Energy and the Barona band of Mission Indians.
Now Anderson is under fire for sending out a mailer headlined “Accountability: Unethical Politicians Hae Abused Your Tax Dollars”. Touting his Assembly Bill 1399, which would ban local officials from favoring relatives using public assets, the bill appears to target Riverside Supervisor Jeff Stone, who just happens to be Anderson’s likely rival for the 36th State Senate Seat. Stone has drawn heat for allowing his sister, a volunteer in his office who also performs some county functions, full-time use of a county-owned car. Stone has called the bill “politically motivated.”
San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Logan Jenkins also blasted Anderson for hypocrisy in sending out a mailer touting his honesty, noting that “…the needle on the manure detector is going crazy.” Jenkins concluded, “Bottom line, Anderson’s sense of ethics are, let’s say, under a dark cloud that’s pouring rain.”
Even conservative blogger Chris Reed, also with the Union-Tribune, sharply criticized Anderson for refusing to answer questions from any media regarding his role in the fundraising scandal. “My new suspicion,” Reed wrote, “is that Anderson either fears or is already facing a criminal investigation related to allegations of money laundering.”
Reed said in his November 18th post that Riverside’s district attorney recently charged nine people, including four members of the San Jacinto City Council, with 56 felonies and 99 misdemeanors over alleged money laundering, bribery, fraud and other related charges. Riverside’s prosecutor has also won a case earlier this year, in which he sent an auto dealer to prison for repeatedly circumventing the law on maximum individual donations, Reed reported.
“No wonder Anderson is nervous,” he concluded, then predicted, “This could soon mushroom into a much bigger political scandal.”